One of the more common misconceptions about divorce is that one party is absolutely going to receive alimony. However, in Pennsylvania, there is no legal entitlement to alimony – it is purely discretionary and must either be agreed upon by the parties or specifically ordered by the court. That being said, it is often the case that one party is going to need financial assistance after the divorce and alimony can be the rehabilitative tool used to ease that party’s economic transition. There are a number of reasons why one party may require alimony. It could be that the party has been the primary ‘homemaker’ in the marriage and therefore does not have the ability to jump back into the workforce and earn enough to sustain the way of life they have come to enjoy while they were married. It could be that one party is physically or mentally disabled, unable to work or even care for himself or herself. It could be that one party cannot go back to work full time, as there are young children still at home that require a stay-home parent.
Regardless of the reason, if the financial need is there, the economically dependent spouse will likely be awarded alimony by the court. In these situations, the parties are better served to agree to an alimony arrangement, rather than get the court involved. But how do the parties’ attorneys decide how to fairly calculate the alimony? Attorneys are first and foremost assisted by the 17 statutorily mandated factors that the courts will consider, if the alimony issue is litigated. The full list of “the 17 factors” can be found in Section 3701 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code but some of the most important factors include the following: the earning capacities of the parties, the ages and physical and mental conditions of the parties, the duration of the marriage and the relative assets, liabilities and needs of the parties.
You may ask, what about what that rule I have heard about that states that you are entitled to receive one year of alimony for every three years you were married? Well, while the reality is that there is no such ‘rule,’ it is true that this formula is one utilized often by attorneys when negotiating alimony. It can also be a presumptive starting point employed by divorce masters and judges when they have to rule on the alimony issues.
Other frequently asked alimony questions include “How long do you have to be married before you are eligible to receive alimony?” and “How long will have I have to pay/will I be able to receive alimony? As you can probably guess by now, the answer to both questions is that there are no such set time periods. Again, as alimony is only a discretionary benefit and not a required one, no definitive rules exist as to either how long you need to be married before alimony can be awarded or as to how long you will have to pay/get to receive alimony. Like all alimony calculation factors, the determination goes back to a point-by-point evaluation of the 17 factors of alimony in Pennsylvania.
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